Ask Amy

Ask Amy: Holiday season brings on tug of war

DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years. I dread every interaction with his family. He’s the youngest of five. The eldest brother ignores my existence entirely.

If his mother sees that I have left my boyfriend’s side for one moment, she will approach him and express how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, etc., she is.

I spend every holiday with them now because if my boyfriend goes with me to see my family, his family will tell him how controlling and evil I am.

His family keeps trying to convince my boyfriend that I am controlling him. It started when he became a vegetarian after meeting me (I don’t care if other people – including him – eat meat).

I don’t make a big deal and simply bring my own food if I eat with his family. They, however, endlessly “tease” us over it (they can get mean).

I don’t want to just stay away, because I want to see my boyfriend on the holidays and it helps him withstand the abuse if I’m there to shoulder some of it.

What can I do to help make it better?

Caring Girlfriend

DEAR GIRLFRIEND: Your boyfriend sits at the silent center of this drama. If he had written to me, I would happily tell him how easy it can be to shut down mistreatment by family members.

I call this technique: “Oh, look at the time!” When people start in – whether you two are standing side by side or suffering on opposite ends of the credenza – your boyfriend can simply say, “Enough.” And then you get your coats and leave. But he seems passive, or perhaps he is paralyzed and trapped between two strong women.

Your insistence on participating in this annual ritual is baffling. You say you want to share the burden with him, but according to you he is mainly forced to watch his family be mean to you. Wouldn’t you both be much happier sharing a holiday meal with your family or friends, or at a shelter alongside people who might actually appreciate your presence? You should consider it.

DEAR AMY: I have a dear friend whose husband died. There was no insurance, but my friend had material possessions worth more money than I have earned in any year of my life. In five months’ time my friend has gone through her money already. Now she is totally tapped out. She has not tried to find a job and none of her children works steadily. I am retired and am not rich, and I told her I cannot give her money.

I don’t think our relationship will ever be the same. I feel guilty but I can’t afford to throw good money after bad. Why do people who don’t help themselves expect friends or family to help them? The problem will still be there next month when the bills are due. Why won’t her kids get out and help their mom instead of expecting her friends to do it? Why can’t they see what others see? I sure would like your opinion on this.

Frustrated

DEAR FRUSTRATED: Your first duty is to take care of yourself – to do your best to make sure you are prepared for your own future. Your friend doesn’t seem willing or capable of looking ahead. She seems to have lived in a bubble whereby her needs would magically be met. For her sake, I hope she is right. But some people are only inspired toward change when they are forced through their own discomfort to do things differently.

You should help her in a job search, if she is willing.

DEAR AMY: “Concerned Daughter-in-Law” had in-laws who lived in a bug-infested and filthy home. Your advice to take their own sheets and towels was stupid; your advice to find a nearby inexpensive room to rent was great. My partner and I have been renting short-term rooms in private homes for years. It’s easy – and a game changer for us.

Happy Renter

DEAR RENTER: Thank you.

Write Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribpub.com.

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